Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 31

The Small Edge of the Wedge

Frank Gresham was absent from Greshamsbury twelve months and a day: a day is always added to the period of such absences, as shown in the history of Lord Bateman and other noble heroes. We need not detail all the circumstances of his banishment, all the details of the compact that was made. One detail of course was this, that there should be no corresponding; a point to which the squire found some difficulty in bringing his son to assent.

It must not be supposed that Mary Thorne or the doctor were in any way parties to, or privy to these agreements. By no means. The agreements were drawn out, and made, and signed, and sealed at Greshamsbury, and were known nowhere else. The reader must not imagine that Lady Arabella was prepared to give up her son, if only his love could remain constant for one year. Neither did Lady Arabella consent to any such arrangement, nor did the squire. It was settled rather in this wise: that Frank should be subjected to no torturing process, pestered to give no promises, should in no way be bullied about Mary—that is, not at present—if he would go away for a year. Then, at the end of the year, the matter should again be discussed. Agreeing to this, Frank took his departure, and was absent as per agreement.

What were Mary’s fortunes immediately after his departure must be shortly told, and then we will again join some of our Greshamsbury friends at a period about a month before Frank’s return.

When Sir Louis saw Frank Gresham standing by Mary’s donkey, with his arms round Mary’s knees, he began to fear that there must be something in it. He had intended that very day to throw himself at Mary’s feet, and now it appeared to his inexperienced eyes as though somebody else had been at the same work before him. This not unnaturally made him cross; so, after having sullenly wished his visitor good-bye, he betook himself to his room, and there drank curacoa alone, instead of coming down to dinner.

This he did for two or three days, and then, taking heart of grace, he remembered that, after all, he had many advantages over young Gresham. In the first place, he was a baronet, and could make his wife a ‘lady’. In the next place, Frank’s father was alive and like to live, whereas his own was dead. He possessed Boxall Hill in his own right, but his rival had neither house nor land of his own. After all, might it not be possible for him also to put his arm round Mary’s knees;—her knees, or her waist, or, perhaps, even her neck? Faint heart never won fair lady. At any rate, he would try.

And he did try. With what result, as regards Mary, need hardly be told. He certainly did not get nearly so far as putting his hand even upon her knee before he was made to understand that it ‘was no go’, as he graphically described it to his mother. He tried once and again. On the first time Mary was very civil, though very determined. On the second, she was more determined, though less civil; and then she told him, that if he pressed her further he would drive her from her mother’s house. There was something then about Mary’s eye, a fixed composure round her mouth, and an authority in her face, which went far to quell him; and he did not press her again.

He immediately left Boxall Hill, and, returning to London, had more violent recourse to the curacoa. It was not long before the doctor heard of him, and was obliged to follow him, and then again occurred those frightful scenes in which the poor wretch had to expiate, either in terrible delirium or more terrible prostration of spirits, the vile sin which his father had so early taught him.

Then Mary returned to her uncle’s home. Frank was gone, and she therefore could resume her place at Greshamsbury. Yes, she came back to Greshamsbury; but Greshamsbury was by no means the same place that it was formerly. Almost all intercourse was now over between the doctor and the Greshamsbury people. He rarely ever saw the squire, and then only on business. Not that the squire had purposely quarrelled with him; but Dr Thorne himself had chosen that it should be so, since Frank had openly proposed to his niece. Frank was now gone, and Lady Arabella was in arms against him. It should not be said that he kept up any intimacy for the sake of aiding the lovers in their love. No one should rightfully accuse him of inveigling the heir to marry his niece.

Mary, therefore, found herself utterly separated from Beatrice. She was not even able to learn what Beatrice would think, or did think, of the engagement as it now stood. She could not even explain to her friend that love had been too strong for her, and endeavour to get some comfort from that friend’s absolution from her sin. This estrangement was now carried so far that she and Beatrice did not even meet on neutral ground. Lady Arabella made it known to Miss Oriel that her daughter could not meet Mary Thorne, even as strangers meet; and it was made known to others also. Mrs Yates Umbleby, and her dear friend Miss Gushing, to whose charming tea-parties none of the Greshamsbury ladies went above once in a twelvemonth, talked through the parish of this distressing difficulty. They would have been so happy to have asked dear Mary Thorne, only the Greshamsbury ladies did not approve.

Mary was thus tabooed from all society in the place in which a twelvemonth since she had been, of all its denizens, perhaps the most courted. In those days, no bevy of Greshamsbury young ladies had fairly represented the Greshamsbury young ladyhood if Mary Thorne was not there. Now she was excluded from all such bevies. Patience did not quarrel with her, certainly;—came to see her frequently;—invited her to walk;—invited her frequently to the parsonage. But Mary was shy of acceding to such invitations and at last frankly told her friend Patience, that she would not again break bread in Greshamsbury in any house in which she was not thought fit to meet the other guests who habitually resorted there.

In truth, both the doctor and his niece were very sore, but there were of that temperament that keeps all its soreness to itself. Mary walked out by herself boldly, looking at least as though she were indifferent to all the world. She was, indeed, hardly treated. Young ladies’ engagements are generally matters of profoundest secrecy, and are hardly known of by their near friends till marriage is a thing settled. But all the world knew of Mary’s engagement within a month of that day on which she had neglected to expel Frank’s finger from her hand; it had been told openly through the country-side that she had confessed her love for the young squire. Now it is disagreeable for a young lady to walk about under such circumstances, especially so when she has no female friend to keep her in countenance, more especially so when the gentleman is such importance in the neighbourhood as Frank was in that locality. It was a matter of moment to every farmer, and every farmer’s wife, which bride Frank should marry of those bespoken for him; Mary, namely, or Money. Every yokel about the place had been made to understand that, by some feminine sleight of hand, the doctor’s niece had managed to trap Master Frank, and that Master Frank had been sent out of the way so that he might, if yet possible, break through the trapping. All this made life rather unpleasant for her.

One day, walking solitary in the lanes, she met that sturdy farmer to whose daughter she had in former days been so serviceable. ‘God bless ‘ee, Miss Mary,’ said he—he always bid God bless her when he saw her. ‘And, Miss Mary, to say my mind out freely, thee be quite gude enough for un, quite gude enough; so thee be’st tho’f he were ten squoires.’ There may, perhaps, have been something pleasant in the heartiness of this; but it was not pleasant to have this heart affair of hers thus publicly scanned and talked over: to have it known to every one that she had set her heart on marrying Frank gem, and that all the Greshams had set their hearts in preventing it. And yet she could in nowise help it. No girl could have been more staid and demure, less demonstrative and boastful about her love. She had never yet spoken freely, out of her full heart, to one human being. ‘Oh, Frank!’ All her spoken sin had been contained in that.

But Lady Arabella had been very active. It suited her better that it should be known, far and wide, that a nameless pauper—Lady Arabella only surmised that her foe was nameless; but she did not scruple to declare it—was intriguing to catch the heir of Greshamsbury. None of the Greshams must meet Mary Thorne; that was the edict sent out about the county; and the edict was well understood. Those, therefore, were bad days for Miss Thorne.

She had never yet spoken on the matter freely, out of her full heart to one human being. Not to one? Not to him? Not to her uncle? No, not even to him, fully and freely. She had told him that that had passed between Frank and her which amounted, at any rate on his part, to a proposal.

‘Well, dearest, and what was your answer?’ said her uncle, drawing her close to him, and speaking in his kindest voice.

‘I hardly made an answer, uncle.’

‘You did not reject him, Mary?’

‘No, uncle,’ and then she paused;—he had never known her tremble as she now trembled. ‘But if you say that I ought, I will,’ she added, drawing every word from herself with difficulty.

‘I say you ought, Mary! Nay; but this question you must answer yourself.’

‘Must I?’ said she, plaintively. And then she sat for the next half hour with her head against his shoulder; but nothing more was said about it. They both acquiesced in the sentence that had been pronounced against them, and went on together more lovingly than before.

The doctor was quite as weak as his niece; nay, weaker. She hesitated fearfully as to what she ought to do: whether she should obey her heart or the dictates of Greshamsbury. But he had other doubts than hers, which nearly set him wild when he strove to bring his mind to a decision. He himself was now in possession—of course as a trustee only—of the title-deeds of the estate; more of the estate, much more, belonged to the heirs under Sir Roger Scatcherd’s will than to the squire. It was now more than probable that that heir must be Mary Thorne. His conviction became stronger and stronger that no human effort would keep Sir Louis in the land of the living till he was twenty-five. Could he, therefore, wisely or honestly, in true friendship to the squire, to Frank, or to his niece, take any steps to separate two persons who loved each other, and whose marriage would in human probability be so suitable?

And yet he could not bring himself to encourage it then. The idea of ‘looking after dead man’s shoes’ was abhorrent to his mind, especially when the man whose death he contemplated had been so trusted to him as had been Sir Louis Scatcherd. He could not speak of the event, even to the squire, as being possible. So he kept his peace from day to day, and gave no counsel to Mary in the matter.

And then he had his own individual annoyances, and very aggravating annoyances they were. The carriage—or rather the post-chaise—of Dr Fillgrave was now frequent in Greshamsbury, passing him constantly in the street, among the lanes, and on the high roads. It seemed as though Dr Fillgrave could never get to his patients at the big house without showing himself to his beaten rival, either on is way thither or on his return. This alone would, perhaps, not have hurt the doctor much; but it did hurt him to know that Dr Fillgrave was attending the squire for a little incipient gout, and that dear Nina was in measles under those unloving hands.

And then, also, the old-fashioned phaeton, of old-fashioned old Dr Century was seen to rumble up to the big house, and it became known that Lady Arabella was not very well. ‘Not very well,’ when pronounced in a low, grave voice about Lady Arabella, always meant something serious. And, in this case, something serious was meant. Lady Arabella was not only ill, but frightened. It appeared even to her, that Dr Fillgrave hardly knew what he was about, that he was not so sure in his opinion, so confident in himself as Dr Thorne used to be. how should he be, seeing that Dr Thorne had medically had Lady Arabella in his hands for the last ten years?

If sitting with dignity in his hired carriage, and stepping with authority up the big front steps, would have done anything, Dr Fillgrave might have done much. Lady Arabella was greatly taken with his looks when he first came to her, and it was only when she by degrees that the symptoms, which she knew so well, did not yield to him that she began to doubt those looks.

After a while Dr Fillgrave himself suggested Dr Century. ‘Not that I fear anything, Lady Arabella,’ said he—lying hugely, for he did fear; fear both for himself and for her. ‘But Dr Century has great experience, and in such a matter, when the interests are so important, one cannot be too safe.’

So Dr Century came and toddled slowly into her ladyship’s room. He did not say much; he left the talking to his learned brother, who certainly was able to do that part of the business. But Dr Century, though he said very little, looked very grave, and by no means quieted Lady Arabella’s mind. She, as she saw the two putting their heads together, already had misgivings that she had done wrong. She knew that she could not be safe without Dr Thorne at her bedside, and she already felt that she had exercised a most injudicious courage in driving him away.

‘Well, doctor?’ said she, as soon as Dr Century had toddled downstairs to see the squire.

‘Oh! we shall be all right, Lady Arabella; all right, very soon. But we must be careful, very careful; I am glad I’ve had Dr Century here, very; but there’s nothing to alter; little or nothing.’

There was but few words spoken between Dr Century and the squire; but few as they were, they frightened Mr Gresham. When Dr Fillgrave came down the grand stairs, a servant waited at the bottom to ask him also to go to the squire. Now there never had been much cordiality between the squire and Dr Fillgrave, though Mr Gresham had consented to take a preventative pill from his hands, and the little man therefore swelled himself out somewhat more than ordinarily as he followed the servant.

‘Dr Fillgrave,’ said the squire, at once beginning the conversation, ‘Lady Arabella, is I fear, in danger?’

‘Well, no; I hope not in danger, Mr Gresham. I certainly believe I may be justified in expressing a hope that she is not in danger. Her state is, no doubt, rather serious;—rather serious—as Dr Century has probably told you;’ and Dr Fillgrave made a bow to the old man, who sat quiet in one of the dining-room arm-chairs.

‘Well, doctor,’ said the squire, ‘I have not any grounds on which to doubt your judgement.’

Dr Fillgrave bowed, but with the stiffest, slightest inclination which a head could possibly make. He rather thought that Mr Gresham had no ground for doubting his judgement.

‘Nor do I.’

The doctor bowed, and a little, a very little less stiffly.

‘But, doctor, I think that something ought to be done.’

The doctor this time did his bowing merely with his eyes and mouth. The former he closed for a moment, the latter he pressed; and then decorously rubbed his hands one over the other.

‘I am afraid, Dr Fillgrave, that you and my friend Thorne are not the best friends in the world.’

‘No, Mr Gresham, no; I may go so far as to say we are not.’

‘Well, I am sorry for it —’

‘Perhaps, Mr Gresham, we need hardly discuss it; but there have been circumstances —’

‘I am not going to discuss anything, Dr Fillgrave; I say I am sorry for it, because I believe that prudence will imperatively require Lady Arabella to have Doctor Thorne back again. Now, if you would not object to meet him —’

‘Mr Gresham, I beg pardon; I beg pardon, indeed; but you must really excuse me. Doctor Thorne has, in my estimation —’

‘But, Doctor Fillgrave —’

‘Mr Gresham, you really must excuse me; you really must, indeed. Anything else that I could do for Lady Arabella, I should be most happy to do; but after what has passed, I cannot meet Doctor Thorne; I really cannot. You must not ask me to do so; Mr Gresham. And, Mr Gresham,’ continued the doctor, ‘I did understand from Lady Arabella that his—that is, Dr Thorne’s—conduct to her ladyship had been such—so very outrageous, I may say, that—that—that—of course, Mr Gresham, you know best; but I did think that Lady Arabella herself was quite unwilling to see Doctor Thorne again;’ and Dr Fillgrave looked very big, and very dignified, and very exclusive.

The squire did not ask again. He had no warrant for supposing that Lady Arabella would receive Dr Thorne if he did come; and he saw that it was useless to attempt to overcome the rancour of the man so pig-headed as the little Galen now before him. Other propositions were then broached, and it was at last decided that assistance should be sought for from London, in the person of the great Sir Omicron Pie.

Sir Omicron came, and Drs Fillgrave and Century were there to meet him. When they all assembled in Lady Arabella’s room, the poor woman’s heart almost sand within her—as well it might, at such a sight. If she could only reconcile it with her honour, her consistency, with her high De Courcy principles, to send once more for Dr Thorne. Oh, Frank! Frank! to what misery your disobedience brought your mother!

Sir Omicron and the lesser provincial lights had their consultation, and the lesser lights went their way to Barchester and Silverbridge, leaving Sir Omicron to enjoy the hospitality of Greshamsbury.

‘You should have Thorne back here, Mr Gresham,’ said Sir Omicron, almost in a whisper, when they were quite alone. ‘Doctor Fillgrave is a very good man, and so is Dr Century; very good, I’m sure. But Thorne has known her ladyship so long.’ And then, on the following morning, Sir Omicron also went his way.

And then there was a scene between the squire and her ladyship. Lady Arabella had given herself credit for great good generalship when she found that the squire had been induced to take that pill. We have all heard of the little end of the wedge, and we have most of us an idea that the little end is the difficulty. That pill had been the little end of Lady Arabella’s wedge. Up to that period she had been struggling in vain to make a severance between her husband and her enemy. That pill should do the business. She well knew how to make the most of it; to have it published in Greshamsbury that the squire had put his gouty toe into Dr Fillgrave’s hands; how to let it be known—especially at that humble house in the corner of the street—that Fillgrave’s prescriptions now ran current through the whole establishment. Dr Thorne did hear of it, and did suffer. He had been a true friend to the squire, and he thought the squire should have stood to him more staunchly.

‘After all,’ said he himself, ‘perhaps it’s as well—perhaps it will be best that I should leave this place altogether.’ And then he thought of Sir Roger and his will, and of Mary and her lover. And then of Mary’s birth, and of his own theoretical doctrines as to pure blood. And so his troubles multiplied, and he saw no present daylight through them.

Such had been the way in which Lady Arabella had got in the little end of the wedge. And she would have triumphed joyfully had not her increased doubts and fears as to herself then come in to check her triumph and destroy her joy. She had not yet confessed to any one her secret regret for the friend she had driven away. She hardly yet acknowledged to herself that she did regret him; but she was uneasy, frightened, and in low spirits.

‘My dear,’ said the squire, sitting down by her bedside, ‘I want to tell you what Sir Omicron said as he went away.’

‘Well?’ said her ladyship, sitting up and looking frightened.

‘I don’t know how you may take it, Bell; but I think it very good news:’ the squire never called his wife Bell, except when he wanted her to be on particularly good terms with him.

‘Well?’ she said again. She was not over-anxious to be gracious, and did not reciprocate his familiarity.

‘Sir Omicron says that you should have Thorne back again, and upon my honour, I cannot but agree with him. Now, Thorne is a clever man, a very clever man; nobody denies that; and then, you know —’

‘Why did not Sir Omicron say that to me?’ said her ladyship, sharply, all her disposition in Dr Thorne’s favour becoming wonderfully damped by her husband’s advocacy.

‘I suppose he thought it better to say it to me,’ said the squire.

‘He should have spoken to myself,’ said Lady Arabella, who, though she did not absolutely doubt her husband’s word, gave him credit for having induced and led on Sir Omicron to the uttering of the opinion. ‘Doctor Thorne has behaved to me in so gross, so indecent a manner! And then, as I understand, he is absolutely encouraging that girl —’

‘Now, Bell, you are quite wrong —’

‘Of course I am; I always am quite wrong.’

‘Quite wrong in mixing up two things; Doctor Thorne as an acquaintance, and Dr Thorne as a doctor.’

‘It is dreadful to have him here, even standing in the room with me. How can one talk to one’s doctor openly and confidentially when one looks upon him as one’s worst enemy?’ And Lady Arabella, softening, almost melted with tears.

‘My dear, you cannot wonder that I should be anxious for you.’

Lady Arabella gave a little snuffle, which might be taken as a not very eloquent expression of thanks for the squire’s solicitude, or as an ironical jeer at his want of sincerity.

‘And, therefore, I have not lost a moment in telling you what Sir Omicron said. “You should have Thorne back here;” those were his very words. You can think it over, my dear. And remember this, Bell; if he is to do any good no time is to be lost.’

And then the squire left the room, and Lady Arabella remained alone, perplexed by many doubts.

Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41